The third and final volume of the Royal Navy on land and sea in the years of empire
For a century, from the close of the Napoleonic Wars to the Battle of Jutland during the First World War, the Royal Navy fought very few major battles. Indeed, as the 19th century progressed and the British Empire inexorably expanded its global holdings and influence the role of the British navy became defined by three principal activities. The first—which is not the subject of these books—concerned exploration and discovery; the second focussed on international maritime policing particularly in the eradication of piracy and the slave trade; and the third concerned the Royal Navy’s engagement in a plethora of small expeditions, campaigns and wars, which either involved short decisive actions afloat or employed naval brigades in shore actions with or without naval guns. In this period there were, of course, some larger conflicts and these are included in these three volumes as the chronology unfolds. The Royal Navy’s military activities are covered in these volumes—edited from a multi-volume history of the Royal Navy—concisely but thoroughly, making them essential resources for all those with an interest in the subject. All volumes include maps and illustrations original to these Leonaur editions.
Volume three comprehensively covers the period 1881 to 1901, when the Royal Navy was in action during the First Anglo-Egyptian War, the Sudanese Campaign, the Third Anglo-Burmese War, the Ashantee War, the Reconquest of the Sudan, the Second Boer War, the Boxer Rebellion among others, together with many minor expeditions and engagements particularly in Africa.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.
Woodward had prepared two barges as armed gunboats, mounting in each of them a 64-pdr. muzzle-loader from the Turquoise. These barges were fitted out under the superintendence of Carpenter Henry James Lilley, and were supplied with protection consisting of cotton bales and rifle-proof plates. The guns were so mounted at the bows as to admit of their being trained through an arc of 45 degrees. Each barge carried 200 rounds of ammunition for her gun, and two anchors and cables, and, when ready for action, drew 3 feet 9 inches of water. The two gunboats thus improvised left with Lieutenant Fegen on November 11th. With them went also a survey party under Commander Alfred Carpenter, R.N., who was employed at that time in the Marine Survey of British India, and borne for that purpose in the Bacchante. Captain Woodward also organised an explosive party, which, under Commander John Durnford, of the sloop Mariner, left Rangoon by train on the 13th, and reached Thayetmyo on the day following. In addition, flats, steamers, and launches were selected, made ready, and sent up the river for the use of the contingent. Leaving only the Bacchante’s contingent to follow him. Captain Woodward himself departed for the front, and overtook the advance on the 17th at Minhla, where he assumed command of the Brigade.
The first hostile movement of the campaign was made on November 14th by Commander Clutterbuck, who, with the Irrawaddy and Kathleen, undertook a reconnaissance up the river, and, about twenty-eight miles above the Thayetmyo, came upon a Burmese steamer, which he engaged with his machine-guns. She made little or no resistance, and, being captured, was towed down to Thayetmyo, where she was received with cheers by the troops, of whom about 10,000 had been assembled for the expedition.
In addition to a number of native Indian regiments and batteries, there were with the force the 2nd battalion of the Liverpool Regiment, the 2nd battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, the 1st battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and some Royal Artillery; but there was neither cavalry, (except a few volunteers from Rangoon), nor military transport; and the omission to include these obliged the whole expedition to stick to the waterways, and so encouraged the outbreak elsewhere of that dacoity which, after the official conquest of the country had been completed, gave incalculable trouble.
The general advance up the river began almost immediately; and the Burmese forces were encountered on the 17th at Minhla, a town on the right bank, forty-four miles north of Thayetmyo. Close to the town was a fort, but on a knoll on the opposite side of the stream was a far more formidable one, called Gwe-Gyomg-Kamyo, or Kolegone, a work constructed by European engineers, and armed with numerous modern guns.
General Prendergast landed troops on each side some miles lower down, and caused them to advance simultaneously by country paths, while, to divert the enemy’s attention, the armed steamers engaged the forts in a long-range artillery contest. On the left, or Kolegone bank, the appearance of the troops on a rising ground on the inland side of the fort caused the enemy, who were already demoralised by the fire of the Irrawaddy and Kathleen, to bolt in confusion. On the Minhla side the advance was pluckily disputed; but at length the fort was carried, and the enemy driven out with slaughter. The army in these operations lost 5 killed and 31 wounded. The navy had no casualties.
Off Minhla, on the evening of the 17th, Captain Woodward joined, and took command of the Naval Brigade. On the morning of the following day, he proceeded up the river with the Brigade in the Irrawaddy, Kathleen, Palow, (steel paddle-vessel, 154 tons, belonging to the Irr. Flot. Co.), the two gun barges, and the flat Ngawoon, (twin-screw vessel, 138 tons, belonging to the Irr. Flot. Co.), (having the survey party on board), and was informed by a native that 500 Burmese and 4 guns were occupying a fort at Membo. Steaming thither, he threw a few shell at the supposed work, and, getting no reply, anchored to await the arrival of the main body of the expedition, which moved from Minhla on the 19th.
On the 20th, the whole flotilla weighed again, headed by the Naval Brigade. That night it lay to off Yenan-Gyoung, and, on the night of the 21st, a little above Yeo-Wah. The Intelligence Department received news that the enemy intended to make a determined stand at Pagan; but on the 22nd, when the flotilla advanced, that ruined city was passed without a shot being fired. Just above it, however, the flotilla was stopped, while the Irrawaddy steamed ahead to reconnoitre.
She soon returned, reporting the presence of two steamers higher up, and of large bodies of troops on the left bank; whereupon Captain Woodward was ordered to move forward with his vessels, and with the barge White Swan, having Royal Artillery on board, and engage the Burmese, who held a bluff on which were batteries. The batteries were soon silenced, and the Brigade landed and took and destroyed their eleven guns. The two steamers, which had been sunk, were also taken possession of. The Settang was left at Pagan at the service of the garrison which had been landed there; and at 2.30 p.m. on the 23rd the advance was resumed, the flotilla, however, anchoring again at dusk.
On the 24th it weighed and proceeded. On nearing the village of Kaoung-Wah, the leading craft were fired at from a stockade, which, however, was soon silenced by one of the gun-barges which was attached to the Ngawoon. The Kathleen was then sent forward to ascertain whether the work was still occupied, and, troops being landed, the stockade was destroyed, Further on, at 4.15 p.m., large bodies of troops were observed on high ground on Mingyan, and earthworks were also seen close to the river.
The naval craft, assisted by the Royal Artillery in the White Swan, with the launches Yunan, (paddle-vessel, 396tons, belonging to the Irr. Flot, Co.), and Ataran, (twin-screw, 140 tons, belonging to the Irr. Flot, Co.), and one of the gun-barges, moved up and engaged, slowly advancing meanwhile. Several little improvised batteries armed with small guns and filled with riflemen were successively silenced, the Burmese quitting them, and taking refuge in the high grass and standing corn in their rear.
Near the upper end of the town the enemy was found much more strongly entrenched, and supported by a respectable battery commanding the river; and, for a time, he held his ground with some pertinacity; nor was it until 6 p.m. that the fire slackened. Indeed, during the whole of the night of the 24th there was intermittent firing, and not until the following morning were the Burmese dislodged and routed.
In this affair the Brigade had two bluejackets wounded. A force of troops landed and destroyed the guns, but met with no opposition, and were re-embarked at noon on the 25th, only small detachments being left behind. In the evening the flotilla anchored off Yandaboo, the place of signature of the treaty which ended the war of 1826.